Cllr Steve Bell is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Brighton and Hove Council

Cllr Phelim MacCafferty, the Green Party councillor and Leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, has been charged with hypocrisy by the national media after deciding to take a jet plane to Glasgow for the UN Climate Change Conference. He travelled to Glasgow to give a speech to delegates and attend Greta Thunberg’s protest, but copped a backlash after not practicing what he was preaching.

As our Brighton & Hove Conservative Group Environment Spokesperson, Cllr Robert Nemeth, said in response, while we can’t all be perfect environmentalists, issues certainly arise when somebody takes extreme positions on environmental matters, which involves criticising others, and then does not live by those same rules. The council leader has been the first to lecture others on climate change (including residents of Brighton and Hove who organise the city’s historic motoring events), and therefore cannot be surprised at the public reaction to his choice of transport.  Such hypocrisy is not lost on the public at large and ultimately damages environmental causes.

The bigger question here, however, is not the method of travel, but why he was in Glasgow in the first place, given his Green Council’s terrible performance on climate change.

Brighton & Hove City Council has just been given the lowest possible score for its performance on climate change by the Carbon Disclosure Project, an outcome that the Council tried to keep secret and which was only exposed after questioning from Conservative councillors. Friends of the Earth has delivered a similar verdict, ranking Brighton and Hove firmly in the bottom quarter of councils in England and Wales for climate change performance.

Brighton and Hove has one of the worst recycling rates in the country – almost half that of neighbouring Conservative-run West Sussex – and the third most polluted street in England running through its centre, a product of poorly thought through transport policies at the Council level.

The Greens have attracted international condemnation for accidentally chopping down a section of what had been Europe’s longest ‘green wall’ in its rush to install a cycle lane – it had previously been untouched since Victorian times. Then it has recently attracted the ire of the Sussex Wildlife Trust in its decision to build housing on 16 urban fringe sites adjoining the South Downs, with the conservation charity correctly pointing out there was no need to do so given the brownfield sites available.

After two stints in office over the course of the past 10 years, the evidence does not present a pretty picture for the Green-led Council.

So why are the Green party failing so badly at a council level when it comes to climate change?

The crux of the problem is that they are unable to focus on managing the local issues they are responsible for, continually stuck in a pattern of protest politics. At Brighton and Hove City Council the Greens have spent over 76 per cent of their council debating time raising international and national matters which have absolutely nothing to do with the functions of a City Council.

In the past year alone, the council has sat through two debates on nuclear weapons, but none on the recycling rates in the city.

It really is no wonder that the rubbish is not being properly collected and the pavements are not being weeded when the administration is focused on something different altogether.

Secondly, the actions that the Greens do take at Council level tend to be merely symbolic – for example, rushing to become the country’s first council to declare a ‘climate emergency’ or hold a citizens climate assembly – without ever following up. These gestures of virtue signalling achieve little by themselves and as Conservatives Councillors know across the country, it is only by fully engaging in the day-to-day hard work of running a council that incremental progress can be made. The protest politics of the Greens (and increasing the Labour Party as well) does not deliver anything.

The Leader of the Council has a responsibility to run the city, not attend UN climate conferences. He is certainly in no position to lecture the world when his Council’s performance is so poor. He needs to come back to Brighton and Hove and do the job he is paid to do, where he has power to make a difference.  Before you can change the world, make sure your own house is in order.